x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Plea to support jail mothers and babies

Filipina who gave birth while detained urges officials to help women in the same situation.

DUBAI // A woman who gave birth to her son while she was under detention this year says the Philippine government should do more to help prisoners in her situation.

Jackie Lou Javate Bacani, 31, a cashier in Dubai, was detained at Muraqqabat police station for more than seven months on drug-related charges.

She delivered a boy at Al Baraha Hospital on March 16 and was returned to detention the next day.

Mrs Bacani said she faced a daily struggle to look after her baby.

"My baby developed an eye infection," she said. "I really had a hard time taking care of him."

Mrs Bacani was in detention with about 15 other women, mostly Filipina, who were allowed to keep their infants while awaiting trial or sentencing.

"I really feel bad for them," Mrs Bacani said. "When I was released there were at least four Filipinas who remained in jail with their babies."

She had been held with Cresilda Empleo, 25, at Muraqqabat since November 10 when they were arrested at Hamarain Mall after a third Filipina, Rhodora Guisinga, 36, was found with tramadol, an opiate-based painkiller.

Guisinga was charged with possession while the other two were charged as accessories.

On June 21, Mrs Bacani and Ms Empleo were acquitted by the Dubai Misdemeanours Court, while Guisinga was found guilty and sentenced to six months in prison then deportation.

Mrs Bacani has since returned to the Philippines with her five-month-old son.

A Filipino migrant rights group said the situation for female inmates and their children in jail was "quite disturbing".

"The innocent children are being exposed to the bitter realities of prison life," said John Leonard Monterona, the Middle East co-ordinator for Migrante.

Consular officials can seek the release of inmates and their children on humanitarian grounds, or a lesser jail term, Mr Monterona said.

He said the officials could speak to inmates in Muraqqabbat and tell them to coordinate with their families to send the children home.

"They should be in school and not inside the jail," Mr Monterona said.

Nhel Morona, the secretary general of Migrante-UAE, said he would ask Filipino paralegal volunteers to visit the women in jail and coordinate with the Philippine consulate in Dubai.

"The consulate is aware of the situation of mothers and their children in jail," Mr Morona said. "But we hope our officials will also work towards securing justice for rape victims who become pregnant and even end up in jail."

A consular official declined to comment except to say officers visit jails, attend hearings and coordinate with the authorities.

In February, Dubai Police announced a project where female prisoners looking after infants will be held in their own section of Dubai Central Prison. There will be a nursery with a play area, a teaching room and a small medical centre.

"The welfare of children in prison is a priority and this new project aims to create the most suitable atmosphere for their well-being," said Major General Khamis Al Mazeina, the deputy head of Dubai Police.

rruiz@thenational.ae